Charming Devils And The Mischief They Make

It is increasingly apparent that sometimes people with severe personality disorders (narcissistic, psychopathic, paranoid and schizoid) slip through the organizational selection net. The problem is they don’t appear in our midst with ‘trouble’ tattooed on their foreheads, instead they are often rather charming devils who do very well until they fall (and bring everyone else down with them).


How to reduce the chances of appointing a chancer, a megalomaniac, an egoist, a drama queen, or an obsessive, to your team

Beware that their failings come disguised as virtuous traits, as they bring almost an excess of a good thing. So the dimensions can look like this…

    Work focused – workaholic – obsessive/compulsive

    Team player – dependency on others – can’t make individual decisions

    Action focused – decisive – rushed, rash and impulsive – dictatorial

    Analytical – paralysed – unable to act

    Integrity – strong values – rigidity/cult leader

    Innovative – enthusiastic/ committed – unrealistic


Spotting trouble in your midst:

Someone who has the following characteristics…

Is all things to all people

About whom people hold deeply divided opinions (seen as saving angel by some and dangerous devil by others)

Who wields disproportionate power to their status

Can skillfully play individuals, telling them what they want to hear

Has an uncanny ability to make bad things, things that don’t work, and people in their way, disappear (Teflon man / woman)

Lies and cheats with impunity in the service of some greater goal, and

Demonstrates loyalty only to self


…just might be displaying strong psychopathic tendencies. As they advance up the organization and external control and non-deferential feedback lessens, the bigger the mess they can create.



How can you lessen the likelihood of this happening to your organization?

  1. Be brave enough to let go of the problem people early
  2. Select for optimal not maximal qualities
  3. Do proper biographical tracking history on your top appointments
  4. Beware of trading off weaknesses for some great strength
  5. Use 360 degree feedback, and listen to what those of no current ‘use’ to the person have to say. The once seduced and now discarded may have a less enamoured view of the charmer
  6. Give leaders a stable deputy and make sure they have adequate power to influence, control, veto leadership action i.e. make sure they don’t gain absolute power!
  7. Offer support to help self-management such as coaches, mentors, therapists


Sarah Lewis and colleagues at Appreciating Change are accredited to use the Hogan suite of personality psychometrics including The Dark Side instrument. Such psychometrics can help identify those at risk of going seriously off the rails!

(Furnham 2007, The Icarus Syndrome, People and organizations @ work spring edition, Trickey, Talent, treachery and self destruction paper at ABP conference 2007)


Other Resources

Recommended read: Snakes in Suits, Bob Hare

More on using Appreciative Inquiry and other positive psychology techniques at work can be found in Sarah’s book Positive Psychology at Work.

See more about Leadership and Performance Management in the  Knowledge Warehouse.

Appreciating Change Can Help

Appreciating Change is skilled and experienced at supporting leaders in working in this challenging, exciting and productive way with their organizations. Find out more by looking at how we help with LeadershipCulture change and with employee Engagement.

For further information on these alternative approaches to change, please contact us or phone 07973 782 715